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Sharks Restore Hope For Emergency Backup Goalies

Sharks Restore Hope For Emergency Backup Goalies

When the San Jose Sharks had to turn to an unknown former Australian pro as their emergency backup against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night, a lot of beer league goaltenders still dreaming of their 15 minutes of fame let out a cheer.

Never mind that 31-year-old Ryan Lowe was once a standout at San Jose State and just over one year removed from playing for the Sydney Bears in the AIHL, for the wanna be EBUGs (Emergency Backup Goaltenders) of the world it was enough that his chance to be in the NHL for one game didn’t go to a former NHL goaltender or current coach.

That has been the trend ever since the NHL changed the EBUG rules in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2013. The previous CBA forbid goalies with any professional experience from being signed to the one-day tryout contracts that were used in emergency situations like the one faced by the Sharks when backup Troy Groesnick
sustained an upper-body injury in practice and was unable to play Wednesday.

The old rule mandated amateur tryout contracts, which led to a lot of memorable situations featuring local college students and even the odd rec league goalie suiting up for an NHL game as the backup goalie. It was a colourful list that included both a Washington Capitals website producer and a 51-year-old beer league veteran.

But it also left teams scrambling at times because they couldn’t use the same amateur as an emergency backup twice, so the NHL changed the rules, which previously required former pros to spend 24 hours on waivers before they could be signed – not exactly ideal for an emergency situation that usually includes not enough notice for the NHL team to fly in a minor league call up of their own.

The result has the Anaheim Ducks turning to their goalie coach, 45-year-old long-time NHL goalie Dwayne Roloson, as an emergency backup when John Gibson couldn’t dress in early November. The Buffalo Sabres also turned to their goalie coach, 47-year-old Arturs Irbe, after an injury this month, though that was in game. Florida Panthers goalie coach Rob Tallas dressed for a game last season, and there have been other situations in the past where coaches like Arizona’s Sean Burke were bypassed only because of the waiver rule, so you have to think former NHL goalies like that will be the first option under the new rules.

Not that the book is closed on the traditional EBUG. The new rules may even allow some to make a hobby of it.

Rob Laurie, who now works in the goaltending equipment industry after a playing career that included five seasons in the ECHL, has already been an emergency backup for the Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks and Minnesota Wild. And while Laurie and Lowe both played at a high level and can’t be compared to the aging beer league goalie who backed up for the Wild under the old rules, it at least leaves hope the role won’t always go to an NHL goalie coach.

Lowe, who played one ECHL game in 2007-08, was working as a goalie coach for the Jr. Sharks when he got the call.

“I’ve dressed for about 20 ECHL games and got into one when the goalie went down, so I kind of know the routine,” Lowe, who skates with some of the Sharks in the late summer, told the San Jose Mercury News. “But this stage and obviously it being the NHL was, there’s nothing else like it. And just seeing how these guys get ready for a game was something I’ll never forget.”

So what does an EBUG get for signing a one-day professional tryout (PTO) contracts under the new CBA? They get $500 and are permitted to keep their game-worn jersey, but teams can still opt for the old one-day amateur tryout (ATO) contract, which does not provide any payment. Of course, players have been known to quietly “pass the hat” and put together a collection of their own for an EBUG, especially if it was a college student.

Either way, it’s the memory that means the most.

Here’s hoping for more goalies get a shot at one, and not just former NHL goalies now coaching.

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  1. Paul Ipolito

    I think I know the answer- but do fat, 61-year old guys qualify as EBUG’s ? I guarantee you I can do a butterfly that people will be talking about for generations to come. 100,000 people will claim they were in the rink that night when I was taken off on two stretchers.

  2. Simon

    Serendipity. At 50 years of age, with a three level cervical spinal fusion behind me and my “pro” career long behind me I suited up as emergency back-up for those very same Sydney Bears Ryan played played for in the AIHL for their last game of the AIHL Season this year. Take note Sharks, I’ll be in San Jose in March and I’m ready for the call up!

  3. Richard St-Onge

    Ok, so where does one register as an EBUG? Seriously, how and where?? 🙂